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Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse among the Elderly: Effective Strategies to Keep Them Safe

Although older people are not typically associated with addiction, the statistics show that they account for a significant portion of prescription drug use in the United States. Individuals aged 55 years and above consume over 40% of the medication prescribed, and according to a study carried out by NCADI, approximately 17% of this population misuses prescription drugs such as sedatives, painkillers, and sleeping pills.



Why Seniors?

As we age, our bodies undergo significant changes that can affect our sensitivity to medications we may have taken without issue. This can lead to increased body pain, slowed metabolism, memory loss, or sleeping disorders.

Regrettably, senior citizens are more likely to inappropriately utilize prescription drugs due to various health issues related to aging. In contrast to other age groups, older adults consume more medications to cope with long-term illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. This could result in a hazardous amalgamation of prescriptions and a higher prospect of drug exposure that may lead to addiction. More than half of individuals aged between 55 and 85 take prescription drugs five or more times daily.

Furthermore, seniors’ ability to absorb medications slows down with age, making them more susceptible to addiction or adverse side effects from prescription drugs, even when taken at a lower dosage. It is essential to be cautious when managing medication for seniors to prevent the potential for misuse and negative consequences.



Misuse of Prescription Medicines: The Impact on Older People

Misusing prescription medicines is a serious concern, especially among older individuals who often take multiple medications. Here are some common ways in which misuse can occur and potentially harm older people:

  • Combining Medications with Alcohol: Drinking alcohol while taking prescription medication can adversely affect your body. Mixing different medications can potentially result in dangerous drug interactions, where the effectiveness of the drugs is compromised, or harmful reactions occur. Being cautious and seeking professional advice to prevent such risks is crucial. To ensure your safety and the effectiveness of your treatment, it is crucial to abstain from consuming alcohol while using prescription medications.
  • Ignoring Prescribed Guidelines: Taking medications for a more extended period than prescribed by a healthcare professional can lead to unintended consequences. Strict adherence to the prescribed dosage and duration is crucial to ensure effectiveness and minimize potential risks.
  • Self-Adjusting Medication Dosage: Altering the recommended dosage without consulting a healthcare professional can be harmful. For instance, increasing the dose of pain or anxiety medications to achieve faster relief may lead to unforeseen complications. Always consult with a doctor before making any changes to the prescribed dosage.
  • Using Non-Prescribed Medications: Taking medications not prescribed or recommended for a specific condition can have profound health implications. It is essential only to take medications prescribed by a healthcare professional who understands your medical history and needs.
  • Mixing Multiple Medications: Using multiple medications concurrently without proper medical supervision can result in drug interactions. Certain combinations of drugs can negatively interact with each other and may lead to serious health complications. Always consult a healthcare professional to ensure the safe interaction of multiple medications.



Dangerous Prescription Medications Frequently Misused by Senior Citizens

The misuse of commonly prescribed medications by elderly individuals aiming to help with symptoms like chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia, can lead to a higher risk of addiction.

The list of such medications includes:


  • Opioids 

The use of pain relievers such as oxycodone and acetaminophen is every day for those suffering from severe pain. Still, it is essential to understand the potential consequences associated with these medications. Long-term use or high-dose intake can harm individuals, especially older people, who are more vulnerable to the risks. While these opioids can significantly improve well-being by managing pain, caution is essential as they can lead to addiction and dependence.

Addiction is a significant risk when opioids are used, particularly at high doses, as they can create a pleasurable effect leading to dependency. This can harm mental, physical, and emotional health, making it difficult to function without the medication. People of all ages are at risk of addiction. However, the elderly face increased risks due to physiological changes occurring with aging and longer-term prescription medication usage for chronic pain management.

Administration of opioids requires careful consideration of potential hazards as there are other adverse effects on the body besides addiction. These include respiratory depression, constipation, nausea, impaired cognitive function, and drowsiness. Intake of high doses can increase the risk of accidental overdose, ultimately leading to negative consequences, including death.


  •  Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, including popular medications like Xanax, diazepam, and lorazepam, are widely prescribed to address various mental health conditions, including sleeping disorders, anxiety, and depression. These medications are known for their soothing properties and help promote relaxation and calmness in individuals experiencing these issues.

When using benzodiazepines, especially for older adults, it’s crucial to exercise caution and follow medical advice. When taken in higher doses than prescribed or when they are used for self-medication purposes, there is a risk of developing addiction. The addictive potential of these drugs may affect the elderly more due to factors like heightened vulnerability, alterations in metabolism, and possible interactions with other medications.

It is crucial for older adults to strictly adhere to their prescribed dosage and seek regular medical supervision to ensure the safe and appropriate use of benzodiazepines. Additionally, healthcare providers should carefully monitor and assess the need for continued usage while exploring alternative therapies or interventions that may help address sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression more comprehensively and sustainably. Taking these precautions can help minimize the potential risks associated with benzodiazepine addiction and promote better overall well-being for older adults.



Signs Indicating Potential Misuse or Abuse of Prescription Drugs in the Elderly

It can be difficult to distinguish if older individuals misuse prescription drugs because the signs may be similar to symptoms commonly associated with aging, namely memory loss or confusion. However, by gaining familiarity with the medication routines and behaviors of your loved one, you can better recognize potential indications of medication abuse. Here are some tips to help you spot warning signs:

Here are some red flags to watch out for when it comes to prescription drug misuse among older people:

  • Taking more pills than prescribed

             Check the dosage instructions on the medication container to confirm whether they are following the prescribed dose.

  • Change in behavior or mood

             The individual’s behavior displayed signs of becoming argumentative, secretive, or nervous.

  • Providing numerous justifications for the use of an excessive amount of medications.
  • Showing remorse or concern about using the prescriptions.
  • Previous history of substance abuse.
  • Changing physicians or drug stores frequently.
  • Getting identical prescriptions from multiple pharmacies.
  • Becoming agitated when asked about their prescription usage.
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Hiding or sneaking medications.
  • Showing signs of confusion and forgetfulness.
  • Exhibiting slowed reflexes and slurred speech.
  • Having a fear of going out without taking the medication.
  • Storing “extra” tablets in their pockets.
  • Exhibiting repetitive behaviors.

Some physical signs to look out for include dilated pupils, dry mouth, watery eyes, and itchy skin.



Ways to Assist Older Adults in Managing Their Medications Effectively

As a caregiver or responsible family member, there are numerous ways to ensure the senior in your care takes their medications safely. Below are some options you can consider:

  • Keep a close eye on the seniors to ensure you know their medications and the reason for taking them.
  • Ensure that the senior takes the prescribed dosage consistently.
  • Purchase a pill organizer or draw up a medication table to clarify which medications and how much should be taken each day.
  • Inquire with the relevant drug stores if they can provide medications in compliance packaging. That way, the medications come custom-packed with the exact medications needed each day and at the specific times to take them.
  • Only offer painkillers or sedatives when necessary, and reduce or eliminate them immediately.
  • If the senior has long-term pain, seek alternative pain management methods such as those provided by a pain management professional or therapist.
  • Regularly remind the senior not to drink alcohol on medications like opioids or sedatives.
  • Ensure that your loved one brings all their prescriptions during their periodic health check-ups so doctors can have an up-to-date prescription record to avoid further unnecessary prescriptions that could result in misuse.
  • Provide close monitoring and help the seniors keep track of their medications to avoid prescription misuse. If you can’t be available due to a busy schedule, consult a caregiver or professional service for help.
  • Finally, store the medications so the senior can’t access them unless necessary.



Assisting Seniors Dealing with Medication Misuse

If you suspect the older adult under your care is misusing their prescriptions or has noticed signs of medication abuse, it is essential to take action. Contact their healthcare provider right away. The doctor may schedule an appointment and ask you to bring the senior in for an evaluation. If the doctor confirms prescription abuse, they can create a treatment plan to help the patient overcome addiction. This may involve lowering doses or switching to less addictive medications to alleviate the symptoms of drug misuse.


At Bena Home Care, we understand your need for support and resources. That’s why our dedicated team of trained in-home caregivers, including personal care aides and nurses, is here to provide you with exceptional care and assistance. Discover our wide range of caregiving services and networks that are designed to cater to the needs of older individuals. Whether you require medical assistance, personal care, or companionship services, we have you covered. To learn more about the comprehensive services we offer, fill out our convenient online form. Once you have completed the form, we will provide you with in-depth information on how our team can fulfill your specific requirements.

If you have any inquiries or require immediate support, our team is standing by, ready to assist you. We are passionate about making a positive difference in the lives of older people and ensuring their well-being. Bena Home Care is committed to providing you with the highest quality care, so you can live comfortably and independently in your home. Contact us today and experience the compassionate and reliable support that you deserve.

It is crucial to always keep in mind that prioritizing self-care is essential. If you neglect your own well-being, it can become difficult to effectively care for others.  Remember, your well-being matters just as much as the care you provide to others.


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